The South African who won a Victoria Cross fighting for Australia against the Japanese

Charles Groves Wright Anderson VC, MC  (12 February 1897 – 11 November 1988) was a South African born soldier and Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross ‘For Valour’. This is one very brave individual who received a Military Cross in the East African campaign during World War 1, and he went to receive a Victoria Cross in the Malaysian campaign fighting against the Japanese as an Australian in World War 2, During the Malaysian campaign he became a POW and survived Japanese enslavement on the Burma “death” railway.

This is one very remarkable man, read on for his story.

Early Years

Charles Anderson was born on 12 February 1897 in Cape Town South Africa, to Scottish parents. His father, Alfred Gerald Wright Anderson, an auditor and newspaper editor, had been born in England, while his mother, Emma (Maïa) Louise Antoinette, née Trossaert had been born in Belgium. The middle child of five, when Anderson was three the family moved to Kenya, where his father began farming. He attended a local school in Nairobi until 1907, when his parents sent him to England. He lived with family members until 1910, when he was accepted to attend St Brendan’s College in Bristol as a boarder.

The First World War – Kenya and the Military Cross

He remained in England until the outbreak of the First World War. Returning to Kenya, in November 1914, Anderson enlisted as a soldier in the local forces, before later being allocated to the Calcutta Volunteer Battalion as a gunner. On 13 October 1916, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. He fought with the regiment’s 3rd Battalion in the East Africa Campaign against the Askari soldiers of the  German Colonial Forces  Anderson was awarded the Military Cross for his service in this campaign.

The_National_Archives_UK_-_CO_1069-144-3Following the war, having reached the rank of temporary captain, Anderson was demobilised in February 1919 and lived the life of a gentleman farmer in Kenya, marrying Edith Tout, an Australian, in February 1931.

He remained active as a part-time soldier and was promoted to substantive Captain in 1932.

Australia 

In 1934, accompanied with his Australian wife, he moved from Kenya to Australia where the couple purchased a grazing property in Australia near Young, New South Wales.  In 1939, foreseeing the onset of world war again, he joined the Australian Citizens Military Forces, keeping his commission he was appointed a Captain in the 56 Infantry Battalion.

World War 2

Following the outbreak of the World War 2,  Anderson was promoted to the rank of Major.  In June 1940, he volunteered for overseas service by joining the Second Australian Imperial Force

2276275_1200xBy July 1940, Anderson was assigned to the newly formed  part of the 22nd Brigade of the 8th Division and deployed to Malaya to reinforce the Australian garrison there against concerns of Japanese military build up.

In an odd way Anderson’s experience fighting in East African “Jungles” seemed to qualify him as the right man to tackle fighting in “Malayan Jungles” and he was charged with training troops to treat the jungle as a “friend”.   The Japanese used the jungle to their advantage and “Europeans” were up against a steep learning curve to lean “jungle warfare” and put themselves on a equal footing against the Japanese.

He was quite successful at jungle training that just one month later he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took over as Commanding Officer of the Australian 2/19th Infantry Battalion.

The war in the Pacific began in earnest on 7 December 1941 when Japanese landed on the north-east coast of Malaya and launched thrusts along the western coast of the Malay Peninsula from Thailand. By mid-January, the British Commonwealth forces had retreated to Johore, and the 2/19th was sent into the frontline to support the hard-pressed battalions of ‘Westforce’, an ad hoc formation consisting of Australian and Indian troops.

The Battle of Muar

From 18–22 January 1942  Anderson and his Australian Infantry Battalion took part in  The Battle of Muar (fought near the Muar River).  Anderson’s  force had destroyed ten enemy Japanese tanks, when they were cut off.  Anderson led his force through 24 kilometres of enemy-occupied territory to get back to the Allied line at Parit Sulong.  During the entire retreat they were  repeatedly attacked by Japanese air and ground forces all the way, at times Anderson had to lead bayonet charges and even got into hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese.

Once reaching Parit Sulong, Anderson famously went on the attack against the Japanese which opened the way for the Allies to retreat further to Yong Peng to meet up with the main force heading for Singapore.

However the main bridge at Parit Sulong, had fell into Japanese hands with a Japanese machine gun nest defending the bridge, this blocked his advance and Anderson’s force was eventually surrounded, and a heavy battle then ensued for several days.  Allied troops now at Yong Peng attempted to break through the Japanese lines to reinforce Anderson’s men but were unsuccessful in getting to the surrounded men.

Without reinforcements, unable to get across the bridge and heavily outnumbered, Anderson’s Australian and Indian troops were attacked and harassed continuously by Japanese tanks, machine gun, mortar and air attacks and suffered heavy casualties. Yet they held their position for several days and refused to surrender. During the battle, Anderson had tried to evacuate the wounded by using an ambulance, but the Japanese would also not let the ambulance pass the bridge.

Australian and Japanese artworks (left to right respectively) depict the action at Parit Sulong.

The Victoria Cross

Although Anderson’s detachment attempted to fight its way through another 13  kilometres miles of enemy-occupied territory to Yong Peng, this proved impossible, and Anderson had to destroy his equipment and attempted to work his way around the enemy. Anderson then ordered every able man to escape through the jungle to link up with the retreating main force in Yong Peng heading for Singapore. They had no choice but to leave the wounded to be cared for by the enemy, assuming the Japanese would take care of the wounded. But unfortunately, the Japanese unit at Parit Sulong later executed the approximately 150 wounded Australian soldiers and Indian soldiers next to the bridge of Parit Sulong, in what is now knowns as the Parit Sulong Massacre.

After the war, General Takuma Nishimura of the Imperial Japanese Army, was tried and hanged by Australia in relation to the massacre in 1951.

For his brave actions and leadership in Muar and the difficult retreat from Muar to Parit Sulong and the subsequent difficult battle at Parit Sulong led by Anderson, he was awarded the highest and most prestigious decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy – The Victoria Cross

His VC citation, gazetted on 13 February 1942, states: “…for setting a magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage. He not only showed fighting qualities of very high order but throughout exposed himself to danger without any regard for his own personal safety”.

Anderson got his remaining troop  to Singapore, and shortly afterwards he was hospitalised.  As the situation became desperate in Singapore, on 13 February, Anderson discharged himself and returned to the heavily-mauled 2/19th, by then down to just 180 men from its authorised strength of 900. He led them until Singapore surrendered to the Japanese two days later.

ander1

Lt General Arthur Percival, led by a Japanese officer, walks under a flag of surrender on 15 February 1942, the largest surrender of British led forces in history.

POW and the ‘Death Railway’

Anderson spent the next three harrowing years of the war as a Prisoner of War under the  Japanese, and he was subjected to the same grisly fate that nearly all British and Commonwealth soldiers captured at Singapore had to endure.

He was shipped with a the group of 3,000 other Allied POW to Burma and they were used as slave labour to build the 415 km railway link between Nong Pladuk in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Burma.  This is the infamous “Death” railway and “Bridge over the River Kwai” episode of World War 2, a blot on the landscape of humanity.

Throughout his time on the “death railway”, Anderson is noted as working to mitigate the hardships of other prisoners, leading by personal example and maintaining morale.

The construction of the Burma Railway is counted as a war crime over 3,000 POWs died constructing it. After the completion of the railroad, most of the surviving POWs were then transported to Japan.

After the end of the war, 111 Japanese military officials were tried for war crimes because of their brutalization of POWs during the construction of the railway, with 32 of these sentenced to death.

Also at the end of the war, Anderson was liberated and he repatriated back to Australia. His appointment in the army was terminated on 21 December 1945 and he returned to his property in New South Wales.

Later life and Politics 

ander5Charles Anderson entered into Australian politics in 1949 winning House Representative for the Division of Hume as a member of the Country Party – twice between 1949 and 1961.   A career as a politician he served in parliament as a member of the Joint Committee on the ACT (Australian Central Territory) and also for foreign affairs.

Anderson owned farming properties around Young, New South Wales, and following his retirement from politics in 1961, moved permanently to Red Hill   in Canberra, where he died in 1988, aged 91.

He was survived by three of his four children. There is a memorial stone and plaque for Anderson at Norwood Crematorium, Australian Capital Territory.

aner7

Anderson’s medal set, note Victoria Cross and the Military Cross followed by his “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” WW1 medal set and WW2 medals which follow them including the Pacific  Star.

Source: Wikipedia and the Australian War Memorial

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